The Why, When, and How of Taking a Mental Break From Training
There comes a time in every endurance athlete’s training cycle when it’s time to take a break. While the word “break” can be scary for many people, invoking thoughts of lost fitness and goals slipping out of sight, it’s vitally important to allow yourself the opportunity to step back mentally and rest.
A mental break, much like a physical break, gives you the chance to press reset and evaluate what it is you’re doing, and why it’s important to you. Not only is it an important time for goal setting and reflection, but it’s also a time to let yourself relax and turn your attention to things other than your athletic endeavors. Whether you’re in the midst of racing cyclocross, marathon training, or winding down your season, allow yourself a mental break. It will help you reset, re-focus, and re-evaluate for all that lies ahead.
Why You Should Take a Mental Break
It’s hard for most athletes to admit that they need a break, or agree that it’s an important part of their overall training. However, the rigors of juggling work, life and family, along with training can be a lot to balance and may be taking a toll on you both physically and mentally. Your typical schedule might look something like work, family time, squeeze in a workout, and repeat.
Allow yourself to shake up that routine and watch your stress level dramatically decrease. Not only does taking a break help to relieve stress but it can also help you maintain motivation and focus for the training ahead. It’s hard, no matter what level you’re at, to continually maintain the level of focus and commitment needed to train at your best. Time away from the pressure of training and racing can help to rejuvenate your workouts.
Often times athletes get so wrapped up in a particular training block or goal race that they lose sight of why it is they’re training so hard. A mental break allows you the time to look objectively at what’s important to you and why it is you’re training. These breaks are also the perfect opportunity to evaluate your current plan and set goals for the future. This is the time to analyze past workout data, race performances, and training blocks to set appropriate objectives. It can be hard to plan when your entire focus is on the training that’s directly in front of you. Step back to rest mentally, evaluate, and plan to reach your goals.
When to Take a Break
Knowing when to take a break can be hard. One of the most common and best times to take a break is immediately following a large training block, the end of your primary season, or after an A priority race. These are typically the times when your stress level is at its highest and a mental break can be the most beneficial.
What’s important to keep in mind is that the goal should be to step back before you’re feeling burnt out. The time for a break is when your motivation and excitement are still relatively high. Once burnout has occurred it’s harder to recover and find your motivation again. It might also be necessary to take small breaks during training to maintain motivation and focus. Not every break has to be long, or after your season is over. Allowing yourself small moments of time to reconnect with other aspects of your life during training can be vital to maintaining focus and motivation. Remember why it is you love your sport and keep the motivation that keeps you moving forward.
How to Take a Break
The challenge for many athletes is figuring out the best way to take a break without disrupting their training plan or their fitness. One of the most effective ways to take a break is to set a time period that the break will last for before you begin. It may be a day, a week, or a month depending on what you feel you need. Once that time period is established fully commit to it. Be sure that it’s long enough that you feel fully rested and restored upon coming back.
During this time period, focus your attention on other aspects of your life. It may be a project you’ve been meaning to get to, family time, or another hobby that you’ve wanted to try. These extracurricular activities will keep you engaged and feeling productive while training specifically for your primary sport gets pushed a little further down the list.
The main concern for most athletes is a loss of fitness during a break. While that’s a legitimate concern, there are ways to take a productive break and come back better than before. A great way to use this time is to focus on things that help strengthen your weaknesses. Activities such as skiing, strength training, cycling, and running can help to develop problem areas while refocusing your energy to something new. In conjunction with working on your problem areas, remember that your body needs a chance to heal and restore itself. The rebuilding stage is all part of the process. When it comes time to start training again embrace the rebuilding and know that you’re better and stronger than before.
While a mental break may seem like a scary concept it can be one of the most important and rewarding parts of your training cycle. The time away from your sport will allow you the opportunity to reflect on why it is you’re training and what you’re training for. This is the time to analyze and set goals for the season to come, as well as make any adjustments to your current training block. Don’t be afraid of some mental down time. It’s important that every athlete, no matter your sport, take time to focus on other things. The life of an athlete is full of many challenges and giving yourself the time to rest and reflect is one of the most important things you can do to contribute to your overall success.